‘It’s flooding! Get out! Get out!’: Residents have little warning as floodwaters inundate town

Blanca Velasquez was among many searching for dry ground Saturday in the flooded town of Maxwell, south of Oroville.
(Lous Sahagun/Los Angeles Times)

Blanca Velasquez, 31, was sloshing ankle-deep up and down flooded San Francisco Street in the small Northern California farming town of Maxwell on Saturday afternoon with an iPhone pressed to her ear, trying to find a clear signal to reach worried friends and relatives.

She, like many neighbors, was awakened in the early morning hours by sheriff’s deputies banging on the front door and yelling, “It’s flooding! Get out! Get out!”

“We all threw on some clothes and galoshes and headed to the door,” Velasquez continued. “When I stepped outside and took a look around, the streets were rivers.”

Water was still a foot high in Maxwell, a small rural town in Northern California’s Colusa County, on Saturday morning. Crews had to evacuate 100 people in the town about 2 a.m. because of flooding, some by boat.


“At least 50 older wood-framed and stucco homes took in water,” said Jim Saso, assistant sheriff of Colusa County. There were no reported injuries.

As debris-laden water the color of chocolate milk rushed past Bill Barrett’s driveway, he nodded toward a row of hills in the distance and said, “The runoff of heavy rains slid down those hills last night and turned this place into a bathtub.”

The trouble started at about 4 a.m. Saturday when Barrett, a retired firefighter, was awakened by a report issued on the emergency radio scanner by his bedside, about law enforcement assisting a neighbor out of his home.


“I jumped out of bed to help,” said Barrett, 80, a 47-year resident of this small agricultural community.

Shaking his head, he added, “There have been floods in this town before. But nothing like this one.”

Velasquez said she and her three siblings jumped in their pickups “and drove off in the dark searching for dry ground.”

A block away, she said, “one lady was floating down Orange Street in a boat.”